All the historical forces that exist today in the Arab-Israeli conflict are just rebirths of old forces we tend to think of as new. What is new is simply each generation’s discovery of these forces. It proves the old maxim that history does not repeat, but it certainly rhymes.
And so it is with Mitchell Bard’s new book, “The Arab Lobby.” You may think AIPAC is devising the Mideast policies of the US government. You might think that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s 2007 book, “The Israel Lobby,” accurately portrays the new state of the US-Israeli relationship whereby the Israeli tail wags the US dog; that the US State Dept. and our military bend to Israeli concerns over American self-interest; that Arabs and Arab states have become more reasonable and Palestinians are now the underdogs; and that Israel is an imperialist and even apartheid state. And finally, you might believe that it is new to say that it is in Israel’s self-interest for the USA to take a more aggressive approach to some presumed Israeli intransigence, for their own good (tough love?).
Bard makes the case that there exists an Arab Lobby, that this Lobby has existed formally since the 1948 Israeli War of Independence and informally through various Arab political formations after the fall of the Ottoman Empire near the end of World War I. The House of Saud, for instance, is one example. More importantly, the same political forces pulling on the US government, the White House, the Arabs, the Palestinians, the Islamists, the Pentagon, and all the parallel institutions of the Israelis has not fundamentally changed over all these years. The one thing that has changed though is that the Arabs are better at lobbying in the USA and have more influence than ever. But not near enough to change their relative strength in our political arena.
One important thing that is true now and was true way back when is that the Arab Lobby does not have a popular base among the US people while the Israel Lobby does.
The Arabs do not seek to call attention to or debate Israel head on because their attempts to do so have always been failures, as Bard points out. They’ve tried this. Their heavy-handed narratives only alienate them from the American people. So they prefer to insinuate themselves in more subdued ways, such as funding and therefore biasing Middle East scholarship departments at important American universities by endowing chairs. Or influencing the placement of their insufficiently critical narratives in our grade school and high school textbooks. Or establishing their extremist Wahhabi schools and mosques in urban and suburban America.
The fact that American support for Israel has not changed since the formation of Israel in 1948 drives the Arabs just plain crazy. But it drives the Arab’s American supporters even crazier. These Americans are an important contingent of so-called Arabists who populate and dominate our own Departments of State and even the Pentagon, some Christian denominations, the old oil industry, universities and intelligentsia, media and philo-Arabists who for various reasons (up to and including hatred of Jews) think Israel’s formation was an historical tragedy. Bard thinks this combination of forces is larger and more powerful than the Israel Lobby, but less politically agile because it fundamentally has to go against American sympathy for Israel and the Jews.
Moreover, Bard says, the Arabists have been consistently wrong in their arguments against Israel and in favor of the Arabs. These historic arguments include that Israel’s formation would be a danger to the Jews, that arming Israel would lead to Israeli over-reaction and war, that Israel would go communist, that the Arab nations would break with the United States and deny us oil, etc. Still, the Arabists manage to continuously dredge up these same arguments in new forms.
From this understanding Bard then makes a new and interesting point: The Arab Lobby morphed from its nascent Jew-hatred, oil-based threats and denial of Israel’s self-determination to support for a narrative of an underdog, oppressed and repressed Palestinian nationhood. Bard makes a case that this new narrative never really accorded with the reality of Israeli-Palestinian politics. In 2002 NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman reported to much excitement that Saudi ruler Crown Prince Abdullah announced at a dinner to which he was invited in Riyadh that the Arabs would bury the hatchet (normalize relations) with Israel if Israel made a complete withdrawal from the disputed territories. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert famously made the requisite Israeli-side offer to negotiate on this basis, but the Saudis never responded positively to his entreaties, even changing the terms. Meanwhile, Friedman’s hechsher helped them garner much undeserved goodwill just after the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
To continue, the Arabs also succeeded in turning the struggle of narratives from one of an embattled David (Israel) against the Arab Goliath to a religious war in which the Arab and Muslim diaspora could pit a Jewish/Nazi/imperialist state against Islam. Otherwise, why would Muslims in Asia care about the Palestinian problem when they have many others closer to their home? Yet none of this has empirically increased their support among the American people.
Yet the Arabs and Muslims have built many American-based Islamic and Arab organizations precisely to push the religious line: devout and peaceful Muslims against Islamophobia. These organizations get ample funding and backing from Arab sources. The Congress of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is one of these. It bills itself as a Muslim version of the NAACP. But it was founded by elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, it refuses to back Israel against Hamas, and it’s leaders have been put on record in closed meetings as calling itself pro-Hamas and pro-Hezbollah. They have lost support from a high of 29,000 members after the 9/11 attack to around 1,700 in 2006, according to a report in the Washington Times. Meanwhile, they have been feted by high-level administration operatives and used as counsel on such things as police training against a supposed Islamophobia.
Bard details the more contemporaneous cast of characters: Christian anti-Zionists such as the Presbyterian Church, diplomatic alumni seeking careers as Arab and Muslim favorites, academics who couch the Arab and Muslim narrative in biased terms in the classrooms of our youth and in our universities.
None of these new initiatives has paid off so far in turning America against Israel. Meanwhile the Israeli narrative has grown stronger in America. But can this working relationship be undone? The Arab Lobby would like to do just that.
Come and learn more about this important work by Mitchell Bard and deepen your understanding of this subject. Mitchell Bard will make an appearance at the Boulder Jewish Community Center on Sunday, February 12 at 7:00 pm to talk about his new book, “The Arab Lobby.”